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Longview: The Real East Texas

By Chelsea Quackenbush
Photo by Lauren Hollon Sturdy

Head east out of Dallas on Interstate 20 and the whizzing cars and tall buildings shrink in your rearview mirror as the pine trees grow taller and life slows down just a little bit.

Longview may not be the big metropolis of Dallas, but it is growing. It is the real East Texas.

Buckner has been in Longview since 1992. Primarily focused on foster care and adoption services and various community programs, a brand new Community Transformation Center, only the second domestic Buckner CTC, is open for business.

“There are many great agencies in Longview and surrounding counties that are prepared to address the life challenges that families are experiencing,” CTC director Michelle Heflin said. “It will be our job to help the family identify their current strengths and then connect them with resources in order to build security as a family.”

The CTC, much like its international counterparts scattered in Africa and Central America, is focused on improving the lives of individuals and families in communities that experience moderate to extreme poverty by providing a holistic ministry approach.

The center is built around current Buckner community programs and is developing alliances with other community agencies. It is also starting several new programs, including case management, a “Jobs for Life” program, and parent education opportunities.

Rebuilding the family

“When you are in the middle of a crisis it is sometimes hard to realize the strengths that exist within your family,” Heflin said. “By building off of the strengths that already exist within the family – instead of focusing on all the downfalls – we are able to offer a redemptive message to families experiencing a short or long term crisis, job-loss or homelessness.”

Families who participate in any Buckner community program can take a “Family Resource Inventory” to determine the current strengths within the family and identify areas of needed resources. Families will be referred to a Buckner case manager to complete a Family Transformation Plan, which creates a game plan to address those resources the family rated low in security. “Security of resources” include financial, emotional, mental, spiritual and physical components.

The CTC has about 250 families in case coordination but expects the number to grow quickly.

Buckner also partners with First Baptist Church of Longview to host an afterschool program, STARS (Serving, Teaching And Reaching Students), which meets twice a week with about 20 middle school students. They do homework and various enrichment activities.

Timeless training

The CTC also is hosting a 16-week program called Jobs for Life, a Christ-centered job training program, which teaches biblical principles concerning work and the ways those principles are applied in the marketplace. Through this training, men and women develop character and become connected to a community of support to help them obtain far more than just a job.

“Over the years, Jobs for Life has reported research centered on the fact that companies are looking for employees that exhibit character, and yet many of our neighbors who struggle finding and keeping employment do not exhibit the character or have access to community support systems to help them experience success in the marketplace,” Heflin said.

Getting parents up-to-code

Buckner believes that every child deserves to be in a safe and nurturing family, which begins when parents are equipped and educated. The center has car seat inspection technicians on hand to help parents with safety belts in their cars and to educate them on proper transportation and restraint techniques.

The mission center houses a large clothing ministry which provides clothing, shoes, underwear and other personal items to men, women, children and infants. They also provide work and school uniforms when available.

“A lot of families are beat up when they get here – really beat up,” Heflin said. “They have strong faith but sometimes they need that acknowledgment that yes, this is hard but you will get through it.”

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